Gunjan Saxena Review – A rousing, sensible biopic that flies high

Srivathsan Nadadhur

There may have been many films featuring success stories of women who overcome all obstacles to chase their passions, but only a handful of them make the woman’s triumph over patriarchy seem as special and affecting as Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl. The understated, subdued treatment of the story is relieving and offers you all the time to come to terms with each of the roadblocks in the journey of its protagonist – both professional and personal. The film’s approach towards gender parity is simplistic but effective. Gunjan Saxena’s father says, ‘A pilot has no gender, what matters is their capability to fly the plane’.

The film works on a micro-level because it subtly addresses the change that needs to begin at home. Before standing up to the other men in the world, Gunjan Saxena needs to battle conservatism at home, in the form of her over-protective brother. Her love to be in charge of the cockpit is triggered when an air hostess introduces her to the pilot on a flight journey as a child. She’s so protective about her dream during her younger years that she dons shades at every given opportunity to guard her vision. The progressive father gives her all the upbringing she deserves. He lets her fly despite stiff opposition from her mother and brother. She lands at the job she had always aspired of, but the real challenge lies ahead in letting her work silence the wagging tongues around her.

The director Sharan Sharma utilises this story as a timely opportunity to drive the essence of patriotism. An excellently written conversation between the father and the daughter summarises this. ‘I’m in the Air Force for my love to fly and not necessarily for my love for the country. Isn’t that treachery?’ asks a confused Gunjan while in a chat with her father, to which the latter replies, ‘What’s the opposite of treachery? (meaning sincerity) Do your job sincerely and that’s the best service you could do to the nation.’ The film doesn’t glorify the role of the defence in the country and neither underplays it – the storytelling and the treatment truly win you over.

Gunjan Saxena, the film, confronts the very idea that the girl needs to be protected and gives the story its poetic justice when the protagonist literally ‘protects’ the nation and her male counterpart in the hour of danger. The filmmaker escalates the tension leading to the protagonist’s monologue about the ‘fragility of masculinity’ superbly, be it the training centre that doesn’t have a woman’s toilet or a place for a girl to change her uniform. The narrative has many situations that test Gunjan’s nerve before she gets to exercise control over her ambition. There are moments where she loses her drive too; they make her feel human and not this exaggerated heroic figure who could do no wrong.

This is quality screenwriting because it understands the thin line between drama and melodrama. Even on rare occasions where Gunjan Saxena feels verbose, the director gives a strong basis to those emotional outbursts. Otherwise, the dialogues remain crisp and to the point. There’s terrific authenticity attached to the Air Force backdrop (visually and aurally) and it helps that Jahnvi Kapoor submits to her role with utmost sincerity. The performance is sensitive to the highs and lows of the role – her smile is radiant and she makes you bat for her when the chips are down.

The film owes its depth to Pankaj Tripathi in the role of a father as he balances his goofiness and his progressive streaks with a delicate elegance that doesn’t undermine the impact of the performance. Angad Bedi stands tall in the shoes of an army brother with a ‘saviour syndrome’ and Ayesha Raza Mishra continues to be effortless in front of the camera regardless of the screen time she’s given. Amit Trivedi’s songs soulfully blend in the film’s crucial junctures along with John Stewart Eduri’s uplifting background score. In its 110 minute-length, Gunjan Saxena understands the scope of the story and does complete justice to it. The ‘Bharat ki Beti’ deserves our attention!

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